Academics and athletics have been a way of life for Jeremy Schlitz.
“Since I was zero, I was in a gym or on a court,” said Schlitz, in his seventh year as Madison Memorial athletic director.
His mother, Jody, taught in the Wausau schools. His father, Chuck, also was an educator and coached girls basketball and boys tennis at Wausau East, which led to his induction into the Wisconsin High School Tennis Coaches Hall of Fame.
“The family business was education,” Jeremy Schlitz said.
That included family and friends working in various-sized schools, which gave the 40-year-old Schlitz “a spectrum of perspective” growing up as a student-athlete and during his career as a teacher, coach and administrator.
Schlitz, the Wisconsin Athletic Directors Association president and the Madison school district athletic director, is at the forefront during a significant juncture in the state’s prep athletics future.
He is co-chairman, with Whitehall superintendent Mike Beighley, of the WIAA’s 16-member conference realignment task force. The task force is examining realignment for all sports, excluding football (which already has had its own realignment), and creating a new process to accomplish possible reconfigurations of leagues.
School proposals for change can first be made July 1, with Dec. 1 the application due date. The implementation of the new process, in which Schlitz said having transparency is a major goal, will be in the 2019-20 school year, including detailed presentations during WIAA area meetings in September.
The first possible implementation of new conferences for all sports, excluding football, would come during the 2021-22 school year.
Another application date is scheduled for Dec. 1, 2020 for all sports, including football, with possible implementation in the 2022-23 school year.
He understands any realignment won’t please everyone, but said the task force is working with the greater good in mind and wanting to provide opportunities for student-athletes.
While Schlitz said football realignment concentrated on how best to create the platform for tournament play, the all-sports realignment is “giving us an opportunity to look at what the mission of high school sports should be, which is to provide opportunities to compete. You want to match schools that can maximize participation opportunities.”
How varsity and JV programs are matched on the same competitive level is one way to keep student-athletes engaged in sports, instead of dropping out, he said.
“As a committee, how do we provide the most opportunities for the most people in the most sports (around the state)?” he said.
In our area, a new high school in Sun Prairie, which could open in 2022, will factor into this discussion. Should Janesville Craig and Parker and Beloit Memorial continue to travel north in the Big Eight Conference or does their future better rest playing in a league along an I-43 corridor? Does growth among some Badger Conference schools warrant a look at forming a Madison suburban league?
“I don’t think we’ve gotten there,” Schlitz said when asked how this area might be affected. “The Sun Prairie news is still new enough and the growth projections are a little ways off. Now that the process is in the forefront, it definitely has districts and schools looking at, ‘Do we need to consider this?’’’
Schlitz said the second Sun Prairie high school will serve as impetus for change, though it wouldn’t be ready for 2021-22.
“That will drive some change, whatever that means,” he said. “I don’t see an 11-team conference (in the Big Eight). I don’t think that’s what anyone wants.”
Schlitz acknowledged the realignment process “is difficult because it is based on change and communities hold traditions very strong to them.” But he also believes it won’t be as difficult as in the past because “we are asking the school that wants change or relief to present a proposal and understand the impact it has on others.”
Previously, schools would cry for help and demand the WIAA find a solution. Now, those schools need to be part of the solution.
Schlitz believes the timing is right for the task force, which he said also includes Oregon superintendent Brian Busler and Wisconsin Dells district administrator Terrance Slack.
Schlitz — a 1996 Wausau East graduate who played football, basketball and tennis there; a December, 2000 University of Wisconsin graduate; and a teacher and coach at Memorial prior to becoming athletic director in 2012-13 — said he feels lucky to have been considered for this assignment.
“It’s truly been 40 years I’ve spent immersed in high school athletics,” he said. “This is just a way I can give back.”